Wands, warp drive and watery wildlife.
When I started delving into the world of personal development a few years ago, I was secretly hoping to find the magic wand that would transform me from ugly duckling to swan.
You see, for as long as I can remember (actually, that’s roughly twenty minutes these days, but you know what I mean), I badly wanted to be a socially confident, charismatic extrovert. The kind of person who is always effortlessly and gracefully at the heart of everything, whether socially or professionally - the life and soul of many, many parties, surrounded by adoring acolytes vying for their attention. A popular go-getter who speaks their mind no matter what, whose opinion is always sought, whose voice is always heard.
The gap between reality and the dream is comically and cosmically vast. Not sure warp drive would cut it – we’re probably in Voyager territory, searching for a wormhole in the space-time continuum… (#trekkie 🖖 - Geeky Outcast stereotype, much?!?).
The reality (as the Star Trek reference may have hinted) is that I’m a shy, socially awkward introvert, who, on venturing forth, generally lurks largely undisturbed on the periphery (or hides in the loo, ideally with a book…), worrying about what I should or shouldn’t say, and often not being heard if I do finally pluck up the courage to say something.
To put none too fine a point on it, I am pretty much the opposite of everything that our culture tends to tell us we should be in order to be popular and successful.
So is it any wonder that, like so many in my position, I longed for the magic wand that would turn me from social outcast to Cool Kid? Surely that’s what all the self-help stuff, NLP and coaching would do for me? Somewhere in there I would find the magic wand and all would be well. This Ugly Duckling would soon be revealed in all their Swan glory!
But it hasn’t turned out quite like that.
I was encouraged to use visualisation to help me clarify, stay focused on and take action towards my goals. But whenever I seriously tried to visualise myself as life and soul of the party, my mind shied away from it. When I tried to imagine being at the heart of a crowd of admirers, I felt seriously icky. Picturing people hanging on my every word left me feeling anxious and uncomfortable. It was, frankly, bloody annoying and frustrating.
And then something SERIOUSLY weird unfolded.
As I persisted with the work of understanding myself better, I started to discover that I actually quite like a lot about how I am. Well, to continue the aquatic avian theme, fuck a duck*.
I like that I’m quiet, thoughtful and bookish. I like that I’m a pretty good listener and don’t really feel the need to speak if I have nothing to say. I like that I’m more happy-haver than go-getter. I like making and nurturing a small number of deep connections rather than flitting between lots of shallower ones.
Being on the periphery gives me time to do what I enjoy – to observe, listen, absorb, consider, question, think, see the funny side (and maybe daydream if it’s boring, but don’t tell anyone), without people bothering me or wanting words of wisdom from me.
Counter-intuitively, liking myself has allowed me to be more honest about the behaviours and thinking that don’t serve me. How can I expect to be heard if I don’t speak up? How can I expect to connect if I don’t reach out? Or, as I affectionately put it to myself: “Put up or shut up – the “woe is me” act is becoming fucking boring, love.”
The simple and somewhat embarrassing truth is that I have spent years looking for a magic wand in order to avoid the difficult, potentially unpleasant work of leaving my comfort zone and facing the risk of rejection and judgement.
And finally I see it. The ugly duckling didn’t need a magic wand to transform into a swan, because the ugly duckling never was an ugly duckling, was he? He was always a swan – the problem was not who he was but who he was seeking acceptance from.
I’m no swan, nor was meant to be. And that’s ok. I’m choosing to embrace my inner duck.
You know what? Swans are vicious bastards anyway.
I’m off to feed the ducks.
Top photo: Ken Goulding on Unsplash.
Bottom photo: Freddie about to be hissed at by a very stroppy swan.